One Saturday morning during the Great Depression, George Johnson, the undertaker of a country town, strolled to the centre of the next block to enlist the help of Bill Smart, the owner of the one furniture store.
George had had information that a resident of a small village thirty miles away had been found deceased by the local mailman, as bread and mail had not been collected for four days.
As Bill had a wife and five children to care for, he always welcomed means to earn extra money, as business was not very brisk.
When the store closed at noon, George and Bill set off in a horse drawn hearse to collect the deceased. They arrived at their destination to find the body in an advanced state of decomposition, which made their task of placing it in a body bag very unpleasant.
The task completed they set off back to town, but George, who had a decided fondness for whisky, decided he needed a little help to make the return journey more pleasant. His stay at the village hotel was a lot lengthier than he said it would be, and a very inebriated undertaker climed up onto the hearse.
Bill had decided it would be much safer if he drove the hearse, but after about three miles or so, George decided he would drive. “Move over, Smart. I’ll drive, or we will not get back till tomorrow”, was his comment as he took the reins. The horses became decidedly quicker.
The road through the next hamlet was a lot different to what it is now. On a descending slope approaching a bend and in a fast canter due to the urging of George, the horses failed to negotiate the bend and ended up halfway down the gully.
George was knocked unconscious, so Bill had to free the horses and tether them to a tree. He found a front lamp still burning, so used it to light his way back to the road. Almost to the top he heard voices. Six young people were walking to the local dance hall when they saw what they thought was an apparition emerging from the bush. Uttering a fearful shriek they very quickly returned the way they had come.
Bill had a long walk back to the hamlet to get help to right the hearse. He put the body and and the still unconscious undertaker into the hearse and made his way back to the town.
The coroner lived in another hamlet and was awoken to verify by a hasty sniff that the deceased had been collected.
Bill arrived back to from where he had started the day before at 5 am, admitted George to hospital, drove to the undertaker’s residence and left the body and hearse in the care of the undertaker’s assistant.
A tired, hungry and relieved Bill returned to a worried wife, a good meal and a welcome bed, sleeping soundly until well past noon.
We are looking forward to further Tales from the North East, Shirley.